Last weekend we saw many of the league’s top teams separate themselves from the pack. While it didn’t happen on such a grand scale in NFL Week 10, some teams continued to push ahead of the pack.
One of those teams was the New Orleans Saints, who took the Buffalo Bills behind the woodshed for 60 minutes. The unbelievably potent Los Angeles Rams were at it again, too, scoring over 30 points for the sixth time this year. And late on Sunday night, the New England Patriots laid waste to a Denver Broncos team that is falling like a rock off a cliff.
Other than these two division leaders, however, there wasn’t a lot of tremendously excellent football on display from the “top” teams around the league. Because of this, there were some very interesting developments.
These are the biggest winners and losers from the crazy weekend.
Winner: Are the Saints the best team in football?
That might be a bit of a stretch, thanks to the first half the Philadelphia Eagles put together. But it’s not a stretch to say the New Orleans Saints are playing some of the best football in the NFL right now.
Drew Brees didn’t even throw a single touchdown pass, and New Orleans won by the blowout score of 47-10. Mark Ingram rushed for 131 yards and three touchdowns — he was a runaway freight train the Bills had no hope of containing. Alvin Kamara was once again brilliant, totaling 138 yards and a touchdown.
All told, New Orleans rushed for six touchdowns, which is just an embarrassing thing to happen to any defense. But this isn’t a brand-new development. Ever since the Saints traded Adrian Peterson to the Arizona Cardinals, they’ve been unstoppable on the ground.
And their defense? Including 79 yards of garbage-time production from Nathan Peterman, the Saints allowed a total of 10 first downs and 198 yards.
This is a dangerous team that appears to still be on the upswing.
Loser: Vontaze Burfict continues to do Vontaze Burfict things
Stop me if you’ve heard this riveting tale before: Vontaze Burfict did something completely dumb, selfish and hurt his team in the process.
Oh, you’re not shocked? Yeah, neither are we, and fans everywhere collectively rolled their eyes as the Cincinnati Bengals linebacker demonstrably threw the arm of an official away from him as said ref was trying to get him to calm down.
Burfict has been fined upwards of $800,000 in his career and still hasn’t learned how to behave. He’s cost his team wins, including in the playoffs, because of his inability to stay on the right side of the fine line that separates players who are aggressive to those who are just plain dirty.
Winner: Brett Hundley bounces back
The Green Bay Packers proved they can win a game without Aaron Rodgers Sunday, as Brett Hundley came through with a very strong performance on the road in Chicago. Hundley went 18-of-25 passing for 212 yards and a gorgeous touchdown throw to Davante Adams. He didn’t turn the ball over and also made some plays with his legs.
Green Bay’s defense shut down Chicago’s vaunted rushing attack. And while Mitchell Trubisky had a fine game through the air, he only managed one touchdown on busted coverage by the Packers’ suspect secondary.
We don’t expect Green Bay to win enough games to make a playoff run this year without Rodgers — Chicago’s been feisty but isn’t a top team, either. But at the least, Hundley is getting valuable experience, which will only benefit him in the long run.
Loser: Chargers back to their old tricks
Los Angeles had this game in the bag. Seriously. All the Chargers had to do was either gain a first down and run out the clock or run it down to the final seconds, punt deep into Jacksonville territory and hold serve defensively. Instead, Chargers running back Austin Ekeler fumbled on the very first rushing attempt, and Jagaurs safety Tashaun Gipson recovered for the Jaguars.
Jacksonville went on to win the game in overtime, 20-17, after a comedy of errors by both teams ensued. It was the ugliest finish we’ve seen in a long time, and both teams have reason to be upset about how it all played out.
But the real story here is that, once again, Los Angeles choked away a win late. And the team’s penchant for doing so is the biggest reason it is 3-6 on the season.
Winner: Minnesota’s offense was on some kind of roll
Aside from a couple of hiccups in the second half — interceptions on consecutive drives — Case Keenum was tremendous in a big road win for Minnesota against Washington. The backup quarterback passed for 308 yards and four touchdowns. He displayed tremendous rapport with receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. The two of them caught 12 passes for 244 yards and two of the touchdowns.
Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon combined for 100 yards rushing and a touchdown on 17 carries. So, despite an off day for the Everson Griffen-less defense, the Vikings improved to 7-2 on the season, two games ahead of the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers.
Another huge bonus to this game was that Teddy Bridgewater was active for the first time in 672 days, which brought a few tears of joy to the young man’s eyes. And to ours, as well.
Loser: Bengals can’t run, can’t stop the run
It’s darn-near impossible to win at the NFL level if you can’t run the ball offensively, at least when you have to. It’s even harder to win at this level when you can’t stop the run.
Most of the season, the Cincinnati Bengals have been able to stop the run fairly well, entering Week 10 allowing just 3.8 yards per attempt and a total of three rushing touchdowns. That didn’t happen Sunday on the road against the Tennessee Titans, who ran the ball for a total of 180 yards and five yards per carry. DeMarco Murray punched in two scores, and he hauled in the game-winning score through the air on the Titans’ final drive.
On the other side, Cincinnati, which entered the game with the second-worst rushing attack in the league, managed just 53 yards on the ground in this game. If not for some bad defense on the back end by Tennessee, the game would have been more lopsided than it was.
Winner: JuJu strikes again
The last time we saw the Pittsburgh Steelers in action was in Week 8. JuJu Smith-Schuster was the most dynamic player in the game for the Steelers in that game, a win over the Detroit Lions. On Sunday, as the Steelers were on the road against the Indianapolis Colts, he came through again with one of the two touchdowns Ben Roethlisberger threw in a 20-17 win for Pittsburgh.
Antonio Brown was shut down for the most part Sunday. Le’Veon Bell was unable to get much going on the ground. Pittsburgh struggled offensively all game long and was facing a two-touchdown deficit early in the third quarter. That’s when Smith-Schuster stepped up big. After the Colts scored a touchdown on their first second-half possession, the rookie receiver hauled in a magnificent 44-yard pass down the right sideline and capped off the drive with a seven-yard touchdown.
That proved to be the spark Pittsburgh needed, along with a timely interception a bit later in the game by linebacker Ryan Shazier that set up the game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion. Smith-Schuster led Pittsburgh’s passing attack with five receptions for 97 yards and the touchdown.
The Steelers won ugly, but they’ll take it to improve to 7-2 on the season.
Loser: Texans’ offense is dead without a QB
Last weekend, we harped on Texans fans for booing Tom Savage. That sentiment remains in place — it’s not Savage’s fault he is who he is. However, it’s clear now that the Texans really don’t have a quarterback on the roster capable of engineering much of anything positive.
DeAndre Hopkins is going to get his every week. He’s caught 13 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown in the past two games with Savage as the quarterback. But the team’s main lighting-in-a-bottle weapon, Will Fuller, has been held to just four receptions and 47 yards in those two games. He didn’t finish Sunday’g game after a rib injury sidelined him. But still, it’s a drastic downturn in production after he hauled in 13 passes for 279 yards and seven touchdowns in his previous four games playing with Deshaun Watson.
Without a consistent rushing attack, and without a solid offensive line, Savage is sinking Houston’s offense. He’s an immobile quarterback and mediocre passer who’s completed 37-of-80 passes for two touchdowns and two interceptions the past two weeks, both losses for the Texans.
Now at 3-6 on the season, decimated on the defensive side of the ball due to injuries and without a quarterback, the season is already over.
Winner: DeShone Kizer had best game as a pro
Forget about the fact that the Cleveland Browns lost. Forget about the fact that DeShone Kizer had to exit the game in the second half after taking a huge hit to the ribs — X-rays came back negative, by the way, and he’ll play next week. Forget about the lapse in judgment at the end of the first half when he audibled to a quarterback sneak and cost his team a chance at points.
Heck, you can even forget about the interception he threw at the end of the game.
Kizer had the best game of his career as a pro, and he actually looked like an NFL quarterback. Even more telling, the Browns were awful offensively when he was forced out of the game and Cody Kessler had to replace him. Kizer finished with 289 total yards and a touchdown, and for the first time since Week 1 it looks like he might have the stuff to become a long-term NFL quarterback.
Loser: Cowboys’ offensive line failed Dak Prescott
We knew the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive approach would have to change somewhat now that Ezekiel Elliott is suspended. But really, Sunday’s effort against Atlanta showed the ‘Boys can still run the ball fairly well — they finished with 107 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Clearly some of that was due to Dak Prescott taking off and running away from pressure, but Alfred Morris and Rod Smith combined for 67 yards on just 14 carries.
So, the running game appears to be in decent shape. That wasn’t the issue Sunday in Dallas’ embarrassing 27-7 loss to the Falcons. The big issue was that the Cowboys couldn’t protect Prescott on passing plays. He ended up getting sacked eight times for 50 yards and turned the ball over twice on fumbles due to the pressure he faced all game long.
That’s not acceptable. If Dallas is going to survive without Elliott to pound the rock, then the big guys up front have to do a better job. Obviously, not having left tackle Tyron Smith Sunday was a big deal, but the phrase “next man up” is heavily utilized in the NFL for good reason.
Dallas must protect Prescott in the coming weeks, or the ‘Boys won’t make the playoffs.
Winner: 49ers get off the scheid
Sunday’s battle extraordinaire against the winless San Francisco 49ers and one-win New York Giants started out as we expected. Both teams appeared to be evenly matched. At halftime, the 49ers led by just four points, 17-13, and it looked like we’d have an entertaining finish on our hands.
Well, it ended up being entertaining for 49ers fans. For Giants fans? Not so much.
San Francisco went on to rout the Giants. The final score of 31-21 doesn’t do the second half justice, as the Giants scored on their final possession to make it look better than it was. It was a huge victory for the 49ers, who finally won their first game.
In particular, we have to give a ton of credit to rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard, who passed for 288 yards and two touchdowns and ran in another score. His toughness and grit are contagious.
Loser: Adrian Peterson goes from hero to zero…again
Adrian Peterson has played in four games since being traded to the Cardinals. In those four games, he’s put on two amazing performances and two total duds.
One week after setting a new career mark for carries in a game while gaining 159 yards, Peterson managed just 29 yards on 21 carries against the Seattle Seahawks.
Now, it’s worth pointing out that it wasn’t actually a week later, because it was on Thursday night. But it follows the same pattern we saw before Arizona’s bye. In his first game with the Cardinals, Peterson looked like he had drunk from the Fountain of Youth. He rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns in that game. One week later he gained just 21 yards on 11 carries.
If this is going to be a pattern, it’s not going to be a good one for Arizona. Especially now that backup quarterback Drew Stanton could be out a couple of weeks with a sprained knee.
Winner: Falcons find winning solution on offense
One of the big reasons the Atlanta Falcons had such a potent offense last year is that they could beat teams through the air and on the ground. Kyle Shanahan loved to lean heavily on the running game at times. The team finished the season with 1,928 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground.
Through eight games this year, the Falcons weren’t quite on that pace in terms of yardage and weren’t close in terms of touchdowns (only five through Week 9).
Sunday at home, Atlanta actually ran more than it passed, going for 132 yards on 34 attempts. Tevin Coleman was the workhorse, rushing for 83 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries after Devonta Freeman was diagnosed with a concussion. As a result of the success on the ground, Matt Ryan wasn’t under as much pressure and completed 22-of-29 attempts for 215 yards and two touchdowns.
Thanks to this balance, and thanks to Atlanta’s suffocating defensive front, the Falcons cruised to a surprising 27-7 win.
Loser: Ben McAdoo’s Giants hit new low
The New York Giants went from winning 11 games last year to looking like the worst team in the NFL in 2017. Sure, injuries to the offense have been a really difficult thing to overcome, but just halfway through the season Ben McAdoo has already clearly lost his locker room.
The Giants made one of the NFL’s two winless teams look very good Sunday. And that’s saying something.
There were whispers before Sunday’s game that a loss to San Francisco could get McAdoo fired, and after the way New York played Sunday we’d be surprised if he does coach next week.
Winner: DeMarco Murray refuses to be displaced
The Tennessee Titans have a great problem on their hands. They have a darn good veteran running back in DeMarco Murray and they have a tremendous young back in Derrick Henry who’s pushing the vet for reps every single week.
The two backs split carries fairly evenly Sunday at home against Cincinnati, with Henry going for 52 yards on 11 carries and Murray gaining 42 yards on 14 attempts. That’s a sweet combo, and it’s clear Henry is more explosive when he gets an open hole.
However, Murray scored three times — twice on the ground and the game-winning touchdown through the air. He’s not going to let a youngster push him out of his starting spot just yet, and the Titans are the better for it. Now at 6-3 with Sunday’s win, they maintain a tie for first in the AFC South with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Loser: Fans who suffered through Jets vs. Bucs
The pre-game storyline of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh McCown playing against their old teams never materialized into much. Not unless we highlight their back-to-back interceptions in the first quarter. Both quarterbacks were gloriously average-to-below-average, and the game was about as compelling as watching your toe nails grow.
Here’s a microcosm of just how boring the game was: New York closed out the first half on a 16-play drive that went 51 yards and ended with a field goal.
The Buccaneers won, 15-10, because the Jets turned the ball over twice in a span of three drives in the second half. And their only touchdown occurred on the second-to-last play from scrimmage. It was just a truly awful display of professional football gone terribly wrong.
Winner: Robert Woods suddenly cannot be stopped
The Los Angeles Rams cruised to another blowout win Sunday, taking down the depleted Houston Texans 33-7. The usual suspects emerged for the home team. Jared Goff was great, passing for 355 yards with three touchdowns, and Todd Gurley had 134 total yards.
But the guy who’s suddenly emerged as a go-to scorer the past two weeks is Robert Woods. He came over to Los Angeles by way of Buffalo in free agency this past spring. Prior to last Sunday’s game against the New York Giants, he had been a good possession receiver for Goff but hadn’t hauled in a score and had a long catch of 31 yards on the season.
In the past two games, Woods has caught 12 passes for 241 yards and four touchdowns. He’s also hauled in passes of 52 and 94 yards.
As if the top-scoring offense in the league needed that extra firepower. Sheesh.
Loser: Buffalo defense suddenly can’t stop anyone
What the heck happened to the Buffalo defense the past couple of weekends?
The New York Jets put on a a rushing clinic in Week 9. Matt Forte and Bilal Powell both had huge games, and the Jets finished with 194 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. That was pretty alarming, but it doesn’t hold a candle to what happened Sunday at home against the Saints.
As we mentioned previously, New Orleans went off, rushing for 298 yards and an astonishing six touchdowns. Whew.
In total, Buffalo has given up 813 yards and 81 points the past two weeks. It’s also given up 492 yards on the ground. Maybe trading away your best interior defender wasn’t such a great idea after all, Buffalo.
Winner: Pats fully capitalize on Denver’s ineptitude
The Denver Broncos handed the New England Patriots a few gifts Sunday night in the form of special teams mistakes. And the Pats knew exactly what to do with them.
It started early when Isaiah McKenzie muffed a punt deep in his own territory. Denver had just shut the Patriots down on a three-and-out, but two plays after the muffed punt, New England was up by seven points.
Brock Osweiler, who actually wasn’t all that bad, got Denver on the board on the next possession. But following a field goal, the Broncos had a total breakdown on their kickoff coverage, and Dion Lewis bolted 103 yards for another quick-strike score. A blocked punt later in the game led to another three points for the road team, and then a penalty for 12 men on the field on a New England punt ended up leading to a touchdown.
In total, the Patriots ended up scoring 24 points off special-teams gaffes by Denver. That’s a good team taking advantage of a bad team. It’s why New England is 7-2 and Denver is 3-6. One team is clearly headed to the playoffs, while the other is potentially second-guessing a whole bunch of its recent big decisions.
Loser: Washington’s receiver problem
Heading into Sunday’s game against Minnesota, Washington’s top two receivers were underutilized running back Chris Thompson and ancient (kidding, sort of) tight end Vernon Davis.
Kirk Cousins has managed to cobble together decent stats this year in terms of yardage, and he’s still completing a high percentage of his passes. But the lack of consistent play from his receivers has hurt the offense, to be sure. We saw this Sunday, as Josh Doctson managed just four receptions for 40 yards and Terrelle Pryor didn’t even warrant a single target, despite playing 28 snaps.
Pryor was touted by head coach Jay Gruden as “one of the top guys in the league” before the season. Yet here we are more than halfway through the 2017 campaign and he’s being phased out of the offense having caught just 20 passes all year.
Washington’s offense just isn’t the same this year without DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon.
Winner: Have a day, Adrian Clayborn
Without Tyron Smith to protect Dak Prescott’s blind side, Adrian Clayborn went ham. The Atlanta Falcons defensive end racked up six sacks on the day, which broke the team record previously held by Hall of Famers Claude Humphrey and Chuck Smith.
What’s even crazier than the sheer volume of Clayborn’s haul Sunday is that he only had two sacks all year beforehand. And that he’s only ever had more than six in an entire season one time, back in 2011 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.